Julia Brookes reviews...
When I sat down to watch “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” after seeing it clean up at most of the 2018 film awards, I naively believed I was in for a moving film about a grieving mother and police failure in a murder and rape case. And the film is about that. But it is also so much more gruesome, dark, disturbing and powerful than I was expecting for a Sunday afternoon watch. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has stuck with me over the years and become rather a pillar in my mental canon films, despite the fact I have never quite brought myself to rewatch it. I find it’s the kind of film that whenever you mention it to someone, they always have an emotional reaction. Whether that’s ‘Oooo’, ‘Ahh!’ or ‘Oh My God,’ everyone knows it, and remembers it. And so, upon seeing the trailer for director Martin McDonagh’s new film when waiting to watch ‘Don’t Worry Darling” (let’s not open that can of worms), I knew it was not one to be missed. Four years after “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” I felt much more prepared for what may lie in store upon viewing “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Although I’d penned it as essential viewing, I knew it was not likely to be an easy watch, unlike Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ which I had consumed the day before for the gazillionth time.
The key brilliance of this film lies in its incredibly simple premise. Colm (played by Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell) are the best of friends, until one day Colm simply decides that he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic anymore. There is no argument or disagreement, Pádraic hasn’t ‘done something’ or ‘said something,’ Colm has simply decided that he is too dull to be friends with. “But he’s always been dull,” Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) protests when trying to reason with Colm, but he won’t be swayed. It is this one decision, a friendship breakup between ageing men, which catalyses the darkly comic film into twists and turns which keep you guessing on the outcome even after the credits have rolled.
Set against the backdrop of a remote Irish island in the 1920s where choice of company is limited and the civil war can be heard from across the water, McDonagh goes beyond the idyllic scenery of sunsets and beaches to draw us into the characters of this remote village and how they exist alongside each other. You dislike and feel for each character in turn. There’s Dominic, an odd, outspoken lad, whose father is the island policeman and an abusive alcoholic. Mrs Reardon who owns the local shop and is always looking for gossip. Jonjo and Gerry of the village pub who can never quite work out which side of the dispute they are on no matter how much Guinness they drink. There is even an ominous presence of death which haunts the film in the figure of Mrs McCormac who always seems to be lurking around a corner and bestowing predictions of misfortune onto the ears of locals.
What starts off as a platonic dumping of a friend spirals into a profound investigation into human beings and the relationships we have with one another. Although set a century ago, McDonagh creates characters which seem universal and timeless. Behind the dark-comedy which made me snort out loud in places, the film touches on exactly what it means to be human and mortal. Colm is consumed with a fear of time slipping away and the fear of not being remembered for anything after death. Pádraic protests what exactly is wrong with being ‘nice’ until this niceness is chipped away and falls into vengeful, bitter action. Even Siobhán slips away to the mainland for want of something more than the island life.
Despite the jokes, the underlying feeling of this film is one of sadness and loneliness. The importance of companionship and the questioning of doing something memorable with your time, whatever the price. As always with McDonagh’s direction, one is not fooled into believing they know what happens next. From start to finish I was unsure if the next frame was going to make me laugh out loud or cover my eyes in fear and repulsion.
Amusing and Melancholic. A vivid macabre dance of a film. A must watch.
Words: Julia Brookes